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Quranic Grammar - Exceptive Particles

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Like vocative particles, exceptive particles place a dependent noun into different grammatical cases. The following graph shows an exceptive relation in verse (92:20) between words (92:20:1) and (92:20:2):

 (92:20:5)
l-aʿlā
the Most High.
 (92:20:4)
rabbihi
(of) his Lord,
 (92:20:3)
wajhi
(the) Countenance
 (92:20:2)
ib'tighāa
seeking
 (92:20:1)
illā
Except

Fig 2. Exceptive relation in verse (92:20).

The most common exceptive particle is illā (إلا). Some other exceptive particles found in the Holy Quran are shown in the following table:

Part-of-speech Exceptive Particle
Particle إلا
Particle غير
Particle سوى
Particle خلا
Particle عدا
Particle حاشا

Fig 3. Exceptive particles.

In an exceptive expression, the exceptive particle will be found between two nouns with different syntactic functions. The noun before the particle is the main noun from which the exception is made al-mustathnā minhu (المستثنى منه). The noun after the particle is the excepted noun al-mustathnā (المستثنى). Below are some examples of exceptive expressions from the Quran. The main noun and the excepted noun are underlined:

  1. (2:249) {فَشَرِبُوا۟ مِنْهُ إِلَّا قَلِيلًا مِّنْهُمْ}
  2. (38:73) {فَسَجَدَ ٱلْمَلَٰٓئِكَةُ كُلُّهُمْ أَجْمَعُونَ إِلَّآ إِبْلِيسَ}
  3. (4:66) {مَّا فَعَلُوهُ إِلَّا قَلِيلٌ مِّنْهُمْ}
  4. (11:81) {وَلَا يَلْتَفِتْ مِنكُمْ أَحَدٌ إِلَّا ٱمْرَأَتَكَ}
  5. (15:56) {وَمَن يَقْنَطُ مِن رَّحْمَةِ رَبِّهِۦٓ إِلَّا ٱلضَّآلُّونَ}
  6. (4:157) {مَا لَهُم بِهِۦ مِنْ عِلْمٍ إِلَّا ٱتِّبَاعَ ٱلظَّنِّ}

According to traditional Arabic grammar there are three types of exceptive expression. The first is when both the main noun and the excepted noun represent the same kind or type, and this is known as muttaṣil (متصل) in examples 1, 3, 4 and 5 above. The second type of exceptive expression is when the main noun represents a different type or kind from the excepted noun, and this is known as munqatiʿa (منقتع) in examples 2 and 6 above. The third type of expression is known as muf'ragh (مفرغ) and this is when the main noun is not mentioned.

The grammatical rules for the exceptive particle illā (إلا) are as follows. These rules determine the case ending for the noun that follows the exceptive particle (the excepted noun):

  1. If the main noun is positive and is mentioned, then the excepted noun will be found in the accusative case manṣūb (منصوب). See example 1 above.
  2. If the main noun is negative and is mentioned, then the excepted noun may either be found in the accusative case manṣūb (منصوب), or the excepted noun may be found in the same case as the main noun through apposition badl (بدل). The sentence may be negative either through negation (example 3), prohibition (example 4) or interrogation (example 5).
  3. If the main noun is negative (through negation, prohibition or interrogation) and is mentioned, and if the exceptive expression is munqatiʿa (منقتع) then the exceptive noun will be found in the accusative case manṣūb (منصوب). See example 6 above.
  4. If the main noun is not mentioned then the exceptive particle will not have any influence, and the excepted noun will take the case ending that the context dictates.

See Also

Language Research Group
University of Leeds
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